On Horror: An Interview with Kristen Gorlitz, Writer of The Empties.
July 30, 2018
I picked Kristen Gorlitz for the next On Horror interview because: 1) She's new to the genre and comics and 2) I was impressed by how she compares zombies to lifeless marriages in her comic The Empties.
The classic horror art from her comic drew me in, but the honest relationship critiques and narrative parallels kept me wanting to read more.
You have a background in film. What made you want to jump over to horror comics?
Movies actually made me more aware of comics. So I am more of a recent convert to the comic world. I hadn’t realized how much you can do on the page before I dived into the world of comics. As a filmmaker, I love control over an image. Comics give you that control. I can get exactly the image I want on the page without fear of budget, or all the uncontrollables that are the challenges of making movies. Ultimately, I still plan to make The Empties as a movie as well as this comic, but I don’t pretend that comics are storyboards for movies. That is a shame and a disservice to the amazing artform of comics.
Where did your fascination with the genre begin?
I’ve been a BIG fan of David Cronenberg for a long time. The Fly really inspires me, it’s such an emotional movie. Body gore has always been my favorite subgenre of horror. In that vein, I’m also a huge fan of John Carpenter and The Thing. I’ve been learning more and more about horror as I work in this genre, and I feel like it is one of the more difficult genres to execute effectively because it’s not only about what’s on the page or on the screen, but it’s about the emotions that are going on under the surface, and these emotions need to be intense. You feel a good horror story as much as you engage on a story level.
The Empties focuses on the breakdown of a marriage after a spouse is discovered to be having an affair AND it also takes place during the onset of a zombie apocalypse. In the past with horror stories, I've seen relationships explored with vampires or demons, but this is quite different. It feels like you're focusing on relationships that mindlessly wonder one day to the next and ultimately end up cannibalizing itself.
Was this your intention when you first started? Or is this something that just materialized after the story was written?
This story has changed dramatically from the first draft to where it is now. I had to take a big step back and look at what story actually means something to me and also what scares me. I realized that relationships are complex and that you can love someone and they can love you, but you can still fuck each other up. It took many drafts to get where it is today, and I learned from my past relationships, and am still learning as the story evolves.
Zombie fatigue is beginning to set in throughout the genre. What about The Empties sets it apart from other zombie comics or stories out on the market?
I get it, I really do. But my story is about love. Zombies in love, not in the cute way like Warm Bodies, but in the way that kills you when you experience it. When the person you love tears you apart in every way imaginable. This is the end, the breakup, and the pain and horror of still loving someone who does unimaginable things to you. I feel like many people have experienced this horror, the horror of loving someone who is dead to you. The living dead really are among us in this sense. In a breakup, we watch someone we love die to us, and yet they still live - the dead alive! It’s going to resonate and offer a lot of catharsis for all of us who lived through it.
You said The Empties was a screenplay before it became a comic. Can you discuss some challenges you went through to adapt it to a horror comic? Any tips to pass on that you learned from that experience?
The challenges of adapting a screenplay into a comic book are primarily related to movement. Movement is essential to each medium, but in a different way. In a movie, the illusion of movement really mirrors how we experience the world. A person can walk down a hallway and have a conversation, but in a comic book, you capture movement in a still image. You need to be more creative about what stills are the best way to convey movement. And you need to be aware of how you direct the eye, the flow of the page, instead of the motion of the camera. Movie and comics are complimentary art forms, but I feel like comics are even more precise. You don’t want fluff. You don’t want to spend the equivalent of 5 minutes of people talking at a dinner table in a comic. You need to create movement in other ways as you don’t have performance and audio to rely on. It’s really a fantastic medium and a fantastic challenge. I’d make a comic book before I develop that story into a movie, every time. It focuses the story in ways you don’t necessarily need to do in movies but translates well back to the movie. It’s amazing how much focus comics bring.
Possibly a little personal -- But I see that the best horror fiction stems from the writer's own fears. With either The Empties or some other work of yours, can you describe some instances where you reflected on your own fears and applied them to your stories?
This whole story is personal. I don’t think you can have great horror without being personal on some level. The fear needs to be real. I was so afraid to lose someone that I loved, that I did things to control that person, to limit them, instead of letting them be free. I wanted them all to myself. It wasn’t healthy. But it was real. And that’s a mind trip when the end comes and you still love that person with all your heart. But horror is also cathartic. We get to see all that shit from a distance and heal our own emotions through it.
Eli Powell has an intense presence in his horror art that meshes perfectly with this story. How did you two meet to begin the book?
Thank you. Eli brought this story to life and it wouldn’t be what it is without him. An associate of mine saw Eli’s work at artist’s alley at a convention, and he referred him to me. I was completely blown away by his work, and I contacted him blindly and thankfully Eli loved the story and agreed to do it. I can’t imagine finding a better artist anywhere.
The gummy bear imagery is very eye-catching. Can you tell us where the idea to use gummies came from? Is this something we'll see more of in later issues?
I was playing around with traditional tropes for the cover, like a house, or a hand reaching up, but these are done so often (thus - tropes). But I have a scene in book 2, which is almost finished, that really delves into the gummy bears and it’s a scene that got stuck in my head. As the story developed, I realized that my characters become gummy (literally) and it’s a great visual representation of that they go through. I also think it lets my cover convey a feeling instead of a literal aspect of the story, like the isolated house. Jeanne Vadeboncoeur is our fantastic cover artist and she is doing the whole series of covers with gummy bears. She does such a good good conveying a sense of dread and unease with gummy bears.
What is the actual recipe for a gummy creme brulee? [This was a dish mentioned in the comic.]
We are currently working on a cookbook for *almost* all of the recipes (and more) in the book. But there are a few things in the story that any sane person would not want to eat - ever! We have left those out, for now...
Give me your top 3 horror comics that scare you:
I’m sorry, I’m a comic novice, so I’m sure I’m missing some great ones, but here goes:
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